DIR: Phillip Noyce • WRI: Kurt Wimmer • PRO: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Sunil Perkash • DOP: Robert Elswit • ED: Stuart Baird, John Gilroy, Steven Kemper • DES: Scott Chambliss • CAST: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor
What is it with bad guys and back-seat driving? They’re always at it: ‘Go down that alley’; ‘Use the hard shoulder; ‘Run over those people’. I guess it’s one of those bad habits they pick up, like monologuing. I only mention it because Chiwetel Ejiofor can’t stop back-seat driving as he chases Angelina Jolie around the Eastern seaboard in Salt.
Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent who has escaped from her employers who, luckily for her, run the least secure government building in the world. Seriously, a laptop in the backseat of a taxi is nothing compared to these guys. Anyway, she’s on the run because a defector (Daniel Olbrychski) has alleged that she is a Russian sleeper agent. So she sets out to prove her innocence, or rescue her husband, or perform her secret mission, basically she just jumps off things – off bridges, off moving vehicles, off bridges in moving vehicles.
Salt follows the spy movie handbook to the letter. Martial drums beat over the Columbia logo and we cut to a bleak Eastern bloc locale, people say things like ‘this man doesn’t exist’ when they mean ‘I can’t find his file’, there’s the obligatory hair dying scene, and the audience are expected to be on the edge of their seats watching coloured bars slowly filling up on computer monitors. This isn’t meant as a criticism, it’s actually all pretty good fun for the first half. It’s a like a big cheap knockoff of the high street spy franchises, The Bourne Identically if you will.
Of course, like almost every other summer blockbuster made in the last seven years, it outstays its welcome. Which is surprising because unlike those films it isn’t stultifying overlong. In fact it clocks in at a very disciplined 100 minutes, so it really has no excuse. The main reason is a plot that’s pretty shaky to begin with and totally loses the run of itself as Salt gets tangled up in a scheme to start a nuclear war between America and the Soviet Union (they’re baaack). It’s also due to the fact that the film looks a bit dull and cheap. Setting a spy thriller in what seems to be a succession of motorways in bleak midwinter isn’t exactly a recipe for excitement and a lot of the sets look like they were borrowed from a TV show with less then a tenth of Salt’s budget.
But Jolie is good fun as Salt and the character herself is an excellent creation. This is a woman who can steal a hat for an impromptu disguise and when we see her next she’s found a stole and pashmina to match. You do not wanna mess with her. There’s enough good stuff to build on that hopefully a sequel can focus on what the genre is really about: silly hats and jumping off stuff.